Complicated Explanations for Mundane Objects
Updated: Mar 2, 2019
We were six flights up when I first noticed the feeling. One of my friends was on the landing above me, taking a breather. I knew he wanted to switch off our cargo. As I climbed the black, narrow fire escape, it happened. Nothing big, just the beginning of a feeling really; it resembled an itch more than anything else. It always happens to me when I'm elevated at large distances. If I look up, this itch starts near my anus and blossoms, surging into my belly like rotten meat. I'm not afraid of heights, if I look down the whole time. If I look up, well, then it starts. It's an odd sensation of vertigo. I feel this uncanny pull towards the edge, like I've got to grab a hold of something or I'll stumble out into the sky. Perhaps it was the danger of the situation that heightened this itch, this feeling, this vertigo. Being somewhere I was not supposed to be, doing something I should not be doing.
I reached Rich and he handed me the case of twenty four beers he had carried since we'd reached the fire escape. He was making sucking noises, struggling to pull in tight little breaths.
"You got to--" he said between pants. "Thing is a bitch--I can't--carry it anymore."
I took the beer and rested it on my left shoulder, leaving my right hand free to grab the rail. I offered Rich an 'after you' gesture but he shook his head. I squeezed against the wall and he leaned over the rail so I could shimmy past.
"Yo guys, there's a broken stair up here," Holden called down. He was straight above me. I cursed under my breath and continued my climb.
The fire escape was steep and after two landings my heart was surging. It was thumping hard enough to rattle the bottles in their cardboard box. The tiny, minuscule itch was beginning to roll through my groin like soft, lulling waves. Those waves turned tidal when I reached the broken step. I rested one foot on it, bearing down with slight pressure to test it. It creaked and groaned with old, metallic teeth. With nimble feet I stepped above, and beyond, it. The strong vertigo retracted back to its previous itch and I continued up; mild accomplishment sauntered with me.
When I reached the top, I took in the city scape around me.
Six of us had gotten together at a bar on the corner of Prince Arthur and St. Laurent to watch Montreal try to edge Pittsburgh out of the 2010 playoffs. Montreal had battled back against Pittsburgh and forced a deciding game seven. The air in the bar had been electric, jumping around from person to person with caustic ease. It left you with an iron tongue that no amount of beer could wash out. It was a mix of nervous tension and joy. Conversations, engaged with fiddling fingers and shaky movements were abruptly silent when the game began. The bright glows from the televisions were the one-man show, commanding any and all attention. People gave them their lusty eyes and wantonness ears.
The silence exploded into riotous cries when the Canadiens took the ice. It was on indeed. Everyone felt it. If you were a hockey fan for only one night a year, tonight was it.
As the game spun itself out, diluted conversation broke out like popping corn across the bar. Most of it dealing with a play, or what one player did to another. Everyone was a referee, calling their own biased penalties against Pittsburgh; these exchanges always short lived.
During the two and a half hour game, the crowd had been thrown into a wood chipper of emotion. Montreal went up early. The bar became jovial and the tension scattered from the room. Fast friends were made amid backslapping and high fives. The tension made a return however when Pittsburgh pulled close but, in the end, Montreal came out with a win.
As the final seconds counted down a chant of "Ole!" carried the people out into the streets. They added to the growing cacophony of bleating car horns and hoarse voices. My friends and I were carried along with it all.
"I've got the best spot to watch the celebration from," Holden piped up.
Jackie snapped her fingers. "That's right. We were there after the last round's game seven. We gotta go check this out. It's going to be even more bat-shit insane than last time."
"Where?" I asked.
They told us.
It was an office building on the corner of Peel and Ste. Catherine. You had to go around the side and into the alleyway behind it. From there, someone had to climb atop a dumpster and lower the bottom rungs of a fire escape. Up the fire escape for ten stories and you would have a bird's eye view of the ensuing mayhem. We all agreed. Money was donated and we bought a case of beer, reasoning that if we were going to celebrate, it would be in the grandest style.
We reached rue Ste. Catherine and the police had set up a barrier that followed the street for twenty blocks. It was closed off to all moving vehicles. It was a current of pedestrians. The police were there to keep the situation peaceful so they let us in, each officer giving us hard stares as we brought more beer into the epicenter. We swam our way through a human river, emerging in front of another barrier. The police were happy to let us exit, almost grateful. We walked half a block then cut right, down the alleyway.
Holden put on some speed and vaulted up onto the dumpster. He reached up and pulled down the stairs. We looked on with mixed amusement and fear.
"Just be ready to take the beer when I hand it off to you," Rich told me before readjusting his grip and starting up.
Even at the top of the building, the noise was thunderous. It bounced between the buildings, causing the glass windows to reverberate and echo out their own sound. Along the edge, overlooking rue Ste. Catherine, there was a three foot brick wall. It lent me comfort, knowing my legs were blocked from the edge.
The six of us peered over.
The entire street was a river of red, sporadically flowing in every dimension. Whirlpools would form as fans circled around a makeshift Stanley Cup, their chant booming out until it was picked up by almost everyone on the block. It was happening up and down the street.
"This is fucking insane," Jackie muttered as she pulled out her camera and began snapping pictures.
Beers were passed around but no one said much. All our attention was focused elsewhere. The police could be spotted with ease. Overtop dark blue uniforms were reflector helmets and vests. They were lined up two deep at intersections, and placed in smaller groups throughout the streets. Flashbulbs exploded near them and they shuffled nervously. People drunk on human contact tested the police's resolve by trying to get close and take pictures with them. These people were told to move on while hands crept down to hold batons for added emphasis.
For more than an hour we watched the celebration rage. More people had spilled out into the streets below us; each passing minute increased in volume. It reached points where it trembled on the impossibly loud, stealing your breath, only to push beyond another threshold of volume and intensity.
Fireworks began cracking off to our left and right, some exploding at eye level. For an atomic second our eyes would be filled with blinding light, eclipsing our other senses.
Rich leaned over and shouted in my ear, "We should be on acid for this!"
I gave him a bewildered look. "You're fucking insane if you think I’d ever climb those stairs again sober, let alone crazy high on drugs."
He shrugged and dismissed me.
I folded my arms across the brick barrier and looked straight down. The crowd was stomping along to a pavement encrusted melody. Vibration joining sound joining moist air. All of it being breathed in by the six of us poised high above.
Rich tapped my shoulder and pointed away to the west. I followed his finger to a large break in the crowd. The people were scattering away from a stalking mist, rubbing their eyes raw from the irritants. There were shadows moving about in the mist, causing dark swirling masses to exist and then disappear in the same instant. A figure emerged with a gas mask on, followed by five others. It was easy to tell who they were, the vests and helmets gave them away.
"What's going on over there?" Grinder asked. "All I saw was the tear gas floating around."
"No clue," I told him. "Rich pointed it out to me after it had already gone down."
Grinder asked Rich what had happened and he just shrugged his irritant shrug. He had not seen it either. It did not matter. Opinions were already molded about who had wronged who first. I wondered briefly if anyone knew who the agitator was and if it even mattered. Both sides would no doubt claim with vehemence that it was someone else. The power of the mob dwarfed all responsibility. If you take half a person and multiply them by a few thousand you're still short a whole one, but the crowd does not know it. They do not care to know it. They feel whole beside so many halves and try to act accordingly. Both sides fall victim to these rules. There is no escape.
A wan smile broached my face as the circle of celebrators below us bolted. Someone threw lit flares in the middle and they began spewing fireballs at odd angles. Someone else darted in, set down a few fireworks and darted back out again. The fireworks erupted neon fury. They came barreling towards us to explode at eye level. Jackie gasped and squirted back as red phosphorous trailed a smokey road in front of her face. If there had been a cigarette dangling from her mouth, it would have been lit.
Grinder burst into wild, drunken laughter.
"Holy shit that was close, Jackie," Holden said, startled.
"You're telling me," she said, placing unsteady hands on her camera, as if it held some talismanic power to ward off further evil. "Damn thing almost burnt my eyebrows off."
I watched her lean back over the edge, although not as far over as she once had. I traded her for another glimpse of the crowd. It had changed in those quick seconds since I last saw it.
The vibrations that drifted up were now ugly. They were angry and menacing. What had once been a gathering of joy was quickly turning on those in the streets. Flares, originally pointed at the sky, were now turned horizontal with casual malice. Fires broke out in garbage cans and were spread around on sidewalks. Tear gas, lying dormant in canisters mere moments ago, was unleashed at key locations in the crowd. The police had had enough. They were closing in.
Holden spoke with reluctance. "I think we'd better take off soon before we, you know, can't, anymore."
We all agreed. It was a smart enough plan, avoiding black marks on our report cards. We moved across the roof, becoming aware for the first time of the silhouettes we were painting against a dim lit backdrop. As the stairs came into view, I heard the distant, smooth sounds of a helicopter. Just in time, I thought.
Rich was ahead of me and he paused at the top of the fire escape. His hands were white-knuckling the railings.
"You okay?" I asked.
He looked back at me, the whites of his eyes crowding his face. He swallowed twice, hard. He opened his mouth, made an attempt to speak but shut it before anything could come out. I settled for a quick nod. He started down. I watched him descend two landings before commencing my own trip, not trusting our combined weight. I gave a final glance at the city scape around me. It filled me with a surprising sadness. To know that my city could stand beside itself and shake the very foundations it was rooted in was astounding. To know that we were pulled together because of a sporting event was maddening. We were together not from political outrage. We were together not because we demanded world change. No. We celebrated and rioted because of a sports teams victories and failures.
I shook my head and headed down, my itch fading with each step.